It's been a long time since I visited these two, but I was grumpy last night and decided to sink myself into their world in an attempt to improve my mood, this is the outcome.
Because it's been a while, I thought I'd remind you what's happening and who the main characters are.
Marilla married John Blythe after his wife, Caroline died suddenly. They live at Green Gables surrounded by Davy and Dora and their families while Rachel lives nearby. Davy and his wife Millie had twin boys, but one died in an accident. Marilla and John hired a mad housekeeper who broke her neck when she fell down the Green Gables staircase. They now have a lovely French housekeeper, Agathe Soigne. The Avonlea teacher, Miss Storer caused upset when she was found in the company of a private investigator. They fell in love and married.
And now we continue the story...
Marilla's hands were sore. Years upon years of work: cooking, cleaning, milking, scrubbing, dusting had taken their toll and now in old age they ached continually. Her joints were red, the knuckles contorted, and fingers swollen. John took her to the doctor who diagnosed arthritis, "just like an old woman," John had joked, but he held her close when she looked sad instead of smiling. Mme Soigne had some special eucalyptus salve and of an evening John would massage it into Marilla's hands providing fleeting comfort. As time went by the relief grew more difficult to find until Marilla was in near constant pain. The doctor prescribed powders, but Gilbert counselled her to limit her use as they were addictive. "I'd only take them at night to help you sleep," he'd said. But they called to her through the day and sometimes when John found her sitting with gritted teeth, he'd press some on to her. The relief was palpable and let her join the land of the living.
Marilla was never one to complain, she knew her fair share of pain and had picked up the habit of nursing her hurt close to her chest but there were days she struggled to hide from Mme Soigne and John, when even picking up her teacup was difficult. John bought her a new one he'd found in a catalogue for those days and Mdm Soigne learnt the signs and would wordlessly place the two-handled cup on the tray if she thought Marilla was suffering.
"You know," said Marilla one day, "it took me a while to come to terms with having a house-keeper, but really you are a great help Mme Soigne."
"No wonder Mrs Blythe," replied Agathe, "as I recall your first attempt at help was anything but."
"Don't remind me," said Marilla wincing as she put up her hand.
"Are you in pain?" asked Mme Soigne.
"They are quite sore today," said Marilla. "It's always worse in cold weather."
That night her thoughts drifted to Anne; Marilla wished they lived closer. She loved Anne's children as if they were her own; she supposed they were her own. Only kin is kin some said; well Anne was kin. Marilla loved her as if she were her own flesh and blood; she had told her as much that on that fateful day when Matthew died and no words she had ever uttered meant as much.
John sighed in his sleep and Marilla's thoughts shifted to the bond he and Shirley had formed. Sometimes she worried about Shirley, he seemed somewhat dissimilar to the rest of the boisterous family but seeing him and John together warmed her heart. John seemed to connect with the beautiful brown boy; they were kindred as Anne would put it. And she had Jem. After Joy's death, they had all cherished Jem so. Rachel commented once that it was a burden to place on a young child, but Marilla thought he coped just fine. And then, and then … Marilla drifted off thinking about the rest of the children, an image of them all trooping down to Rainbow Valley to plan some deeds with the Meredith children arose before her closed eyes.
It was John's turn to stir next. By this time watery sunlight made its way through chinks in the curtain, just enough to cast a gloomy light over the bedroom. He turned and gazed at Marilla intently, the fine hair on her face caught the light casting a golden halo broken only by stray wisps of hair broken free from her night-time plait. Well his beloved may be asleep, but John had to get up, his breakfast was calling.
John watched over his steaming coffee as Marilla made her way out to the breakfast table grimacing slightly, and he glanced across to Mme Soigne who replaced the teacup with the two handled one, "I'm fine," Marilla snapped. "Stop coddling me," she told John sternly. Agatha melted away to allow them to continue their argument in private.
"We just want to help," he said calmly.
"When I need assistance, I'll ask for it," she said curtly.
John raised his eyebrows, "except you won't will you. You hate to be seen to be weak. Sometimes you need me to second guess you and that's what I did today. Come now, don't be upset. It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day. I thought we might go for a drive." He replaced the cup with her usual one and watched her wince when she tried to pick it up.
"Oh, for goodness sake, yes I need the new one," said Marilla grudgingly. "I apologise," she added when he poured a new tea.
"That's all right darling, I understand. Now where should we go today? I'd like to see how Hester Gray's garden is faring this fall."
"Mm," nodded Marilla as she bit into her toast with a crunch. It was a favourite spot.
Picnic packed by the inestimable Mme Soigne and carrying plenty of blankets in case the cool wind picked up with a click of his tongue John drove off down the driveway with his beloved by his side. "Warm enough?" he asked as he climbed back in after he closed the gate.
"Mm, hm," Marilla nodded, and she leaned into his side comfortably.
Hester's garden was some way off, the drive showcasing the best their part of the island had to offer; russet tones reflected wobbly in the still water of Barry's pond. Marilla was mostly silent, just taking it all in until apropos of nothing she said, "she used to say I lived vicariously." John made a querying sound. "Sorry," continued Marilla. "Did I say that out loud? I was just musing."
"No matter. What did she say and who was she when it comes to that?"
"It was Rachel, as you might have guessed. It was just that I used to be a bit of a hermit. Even after she arrived, I lived through an Anne prism. I don't think that's the case anymore though, do you?"
"She altered you, I don't think you can deny that; but no, I don't think anyone could say you live vicariously anymore. You're as much a part of our community as anyone."
"I agree. You know even after all this time I do like hearing people call me Mrs Blythe. It gives me a little thrill. I waited a long time for that honorific."
"Doesn't change much really though, does it?"
"Oh, but that's where you're wrong, John. I feel stronger, more authoritative. It's ridiculous I suppose you might say, but I believe people respect me in a way they never did before. I don't know why really, why having lain with a man changes anything. I mean I don't think I'm any wiser now because of it, but people treat me differently."
"How interesting, I wonder if Matthew felt the same way? Not that he ever got married."
"Well it was different for him; he was a man. Although if I was considered quiet, he was a hermit."
"I think about you two living together all those years. It must have been so lonely."
"Well we were busy, I had the housework and he the farm," she sighed. "But yes, it was a quiet life. I'd look up sometimes and realise a year had passed without me really noticing."
"Did you think of me?" John asked quietly.
Marilla turned to look at him, "not too much," she paused then added, "it was too painful. Though to tell the truth at the very beginning I used to spy on you and Caroline."
"Spy on us?" said John glancing at her.
"It's silly I admit, I don't even know if I wanted you to be happy or not, but it seemed important then. One day it dawned on me that you were just getting on with life and I doubted you thought of me and that I had better do likewise. Certainly, living in the past didn't help me move on. I had to compartmentalise our relationship, to tuck it away like I did your letters."
"Mar," John said drawing her close.
"Don't mind me, I mean there are worse fates. When I think of Mrs Andrews or Anne's friend Leslie for instance. Life may not have been very exciting, but Matthew was a good and kind brother."
"I suppose nothing would ever have changed if Matthew hadn't decided he needed a hand around the place," John said.
Marilla laughed, "no indeed, that was the catalyst we needed. God heard my unspoken prayers the ones I was unaware I was making all along."
With a turn they entered an avenue of trees whose beauty was unsurpassed. All talk then was forgotten as they drove along admiring the russet, crimson and golden hues arching above the road in a marvellous but fleeting canopy. "Sometimes I feel like nature puts on this show for us as penance for what is to come," said John with a smile. Marilla was speechless beside him. "I just hope such a beautiful display isn't a precursor of a hard winter," he added.
"Don't even say it, even in jest," said Marilla rubbing her hands.
"Are you all right?" asked John concern lacing his question.
"It's just they hurt so in cold weather, no matter what I do. I don't know if I can bare it," Marilla replied.
They set up their picnic on the old lawn, festooned with wildflowers in spring, but on this autumn day with fallen leaves in a damp but colourful carpet.
Mme Soigne had as usual packed a delicious picnic no mean feat given the lack of notice, but one she always managed effortlessly. Afterwards Marilla lay with her head in John's lap watching the leaves fall behind him. Birds were chattering in the distance and for a moment they were quiet, sated by the food and drinking in the beauty that surrounded them.
"I wonder," Marilla broke the silence just before John nodded off. "How they will get on after we die?"
"I hope you're not planning on leaving me anytime soon my love," said John.
"No, far from it, but these hands remind me of my mortality. I'm not getting any younger."
John decided to ignore that and to answer her question instead, "how will they get on? Well you have steered them so well, you are such a wonderful role model; they will thrive. Who knows what challenges the next century will bring? But they have your steadying influence to guide them. I expect one of the girls will receive your plum puff recipe and wish they had your trick; they'll never turn out quite the same as yours. Or someone will inherit one of your rugs or even Rachel's quilts and think of you when they gaze upon it. You'll never truly leave them, darling. Your legacy will live on. When I think," continued John warming to his theme, fully awake now. "When I think on how fateful that one decision of yours and Matthew's was it rather astounds me. How wise you were."
"Fiddlesticks," chided Marilla, pleased but needing to hide it.
"No, really. I bet you had no idea what keeping Anne would do. Not only did you save her and by extension yourselves, but you set in motion all these other lives. If you had not kept her, she and Gilbert would not have had their six…"
"Seven," amended Marilla quietly.
"Seven," agreed John, wiping away a stray tear from Marilla's cheek with his thumb, "children. The Meredith children would not have met them. I expect they'll be intertwined at some point don't you think. They're as thick as thieves already. And they'll have children and so on and so on. One seemingly simple decision."
"Mistake really," said Marilla.
"But you decided to keep her afterwards don't forget. One simple decision brought all that to pass."
"And I suppose," said Marilla rising to her elbow the better to see John's face. "If we had stayed together none of that would have happened either. Anne would have languished in the asylum and Gilbert wouldn't have existed. You can't keep on with these ruminations, everyone's lives are happenstance. You could go mad thinking up the what if's."
"You are so wise, my darling," said John drawing Marilla close.
And there we leave our two lovers surrounded by the best that Prince Edward Island could offer as crickets sang under a gentle downpour of crimson leaves. Hester only got to enjoy her garden for a short while but it remained her legacy as plum puffs and fortitude and love will be Marilla's.
- The End -
I didn't know where this would go when I started writing it the other day, but leaving them there with the story unfinished seems a nice way to end it. I figure if I hadn't written any more tales for them over the last 15 months, I was unlikely to do so any time soon. So I'll leave them to the rest of their life surrounded by their extended family.
Thanks to everyone for helping me with ideas and feedback, it's very much appreciated.